Airline in the sky

Virgin Atlantic diversifies logo after 35 years of pin-up girl emblem

Image credit: Virgin Atlantic/PA Wire

Virgin Atlantic’s flying lady emblem will not feature on its new aircraft and is being replaced by a diverse range of people as part of a pledge to add diversity to the company, the airline has announced.

The airline said it is replacing its traditional image – the ‘flying lady’ logo based on pin-up girls made famous by Alberto Vargas in the 1930s and 1940s – with a diverse range of men and women “representing modern Britain” on its new A350-1000 fleet.

Among the people wearing a red leotard in the new artwork will be a black man and woman, a woman of Asian descent, as well as a member of the LGBT community represented by a gay man in rainbow lycra, making Virgin Atlantic the first airline to have male figureheads on its aircraft.  

Emblem on new Daley flying icon from the LGBT community

This figure depicts a gay man, with the company wanting to 'encourage people from all backgrounds to feel at home flying with us'

Image credit: Virgin Atlantic/PA Wire

The flying woman, wearing a red dress that unpeels into a Union flag, was inspired by the Second World War pin-ups of Alberto Vargas - later a Playboy illustrator - but will now give way to a total of five new characters when new planes arrive.

The announcement comes after the airline stopped telling female cabin crew members that they had to wear make-up on the job and started providing female employees with trousers as part of their standard uniform, rather than only if requested.

The carrier is replacing its traditional image to diversify the airline

This black woman will be one of the new figureheads to adorn Virgin Atlantic aircraft, as part of a pledge to add diversity to the company

Image credit: Virgin Atlantic/PA Wire

Virgin Atlantic, founded by British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, has pledged to tackle its gender pay gap and to increase diversity and inclusion, aiming to have a 50/50 gender split in leadership roles, as well as 12 per cent black, Asian and minority ethnic group representation across the company by 2022.

Emblem on new Daley flying icon to represent modern Britian

Meera is one of the two new female icons to be introduced

Image credit: Virgin Atlantic/PA Wire

Nikki Humphrey, senior vice president of people at Virgin Atlantic, said: “The saying goes ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and that has never been truer than the aviation industry’s glamorous image in the past.

“We have been working for a number of years to tackle our gender pay gap, create an inclusive workplace and increase the diversity of our workforce, through the development of our springboard scheme for women, as well as the launch of engineering apprenticeships.

“By introducing our new flying icons, I hope it encourages people from all backgrounds to feel at home flying with us, but also working with us.”

New emblem on new Daley flying icon, which is part of diverse range of men and women

Daley, a black man, is another of the five new characters introduced by Virgin Atlantic

Image credit: Virgin Atlantic/PA Wire

The new icons may not, however, entirely achieve their purpose, according to Afua Hirsch, author of ‘Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging’.

Hirsch said she welcomed the commitment to gender balance and ethnic representation at the airline, as well as the replacing of the flying lady which, Hirsch believes, “fed into a number of problematic stereotypes about what Britishness looks like.”

However, Hirsch said she wondered who came up with the new icons and names, adding: “Putting the black icon on a plane called Cool Runner sounds like a tired trope that predictably links black people to ‘urban’ culture and entertainment and betrays exactly the kind of stereotypical thinking Virgin claims it’s trying to change.”

It is possible that that particular plane’s name could be linked to the long-standing involvement of former Olympic sprinter and world champion Usain Bolt with Virgin Media, the cable broadband business, although the two businesses are entirely separate.

In October 2018, Virgin Atlantic flew and landed the world’s first commercial flight partly powered by a new form of biofuel produced from alcohol.

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